Barney Fife Comparison Does Not Equal Defamation

The Andy Griffith Show premiered 55 years ago.  But its legacy lives on. The most recent example comes from a libel lawsuit in Kentucky.  

A Louisville radio personality named Terry Meiners got a speeding ticket courtesy of Louisville police officer Sam Cromity.  Like many of us, Meiners claimed the ticket was unjustified.  Unlike many of us, Meiners had several thousand watts available to vent about it.   

Meiners called Cromity an “out and out liar” and ”delusional.” He also referred to Cromity as “Black Car Barney.”  That was a reference to Barney Fife, the incompetent deputy made famous by Don Knotts.     

And speaking of incompetent, it seems Cromity found himself on a losing streak at the courthouse.  First, Meiners got a acquitted on the speeding charge.  Undaunted, Cromity filed a libel case against Meiners based in part on the “Black Car Barney” comment.  The trial court was unimpressed.  It found Meiners’ comments constituted “commentary involving a matter of public interest and . . . non-actionable opinion.”  The court of appeals recently affirmed that ruling.  

The court also commented on the Meiners’ acquittal, noting that while it did not absolutely prove the truth of Meiners’ comments, it did “not weigh in Cromity’s favor.”    In retrospect, it’s too bad someone didn’t tell Cromity to nip that lawsuit in the bud.